We’re back! We’ve got a spiffy new look, a new mission (details below), and starting right now in this very sentence I’m even dropping, for good, the rhetorical first person plural. Yep, things have changed during the eighteen or so months this blog has been dormant.
Among those changes, in case you haven’t heard, is that Line 6B is evidently no longer Line 6B. With no real explanation, Enbridge recently decided to start calling it Line 78. It’s not altogether clear why, though I suspect they saw this in part as an opportunity for some re-branding—you know, on account of the spotty reputation of Line 6B— maybe even a continuation of their project to obscure the history they love to say, sometimes with creepy tokens, they’ll never forget. But just because they’ve chosen a new name doesn’t mean we have to use it— no more than we have to comply with their misleading, ahistorical insistence that “oil sands” is the “accurate” term for the filthy stuff dug up from the ground in Alberta and flowing through the pipeline in my backyard as I type this. So you can rest assured that I plan on keeping the name “Line 6B Citizens’ Blog.”
But that doesn’t mean nothing around here is changing. After all, for most Line 6B landowners, the long, torturous construction saga known as the Line 6B “replacement” project ended almost two years ago— and with it ended some of the urgent necessity of this blog. It’s been a while since Enbridge finally packed up its monstrous tree-eating machines, its backhoes, its welding rigs, and its pack of scurrilous, lying land agents and headed north so it could commence destroying properties, suing municipalities, and buying off politicians in Minnesota and Wisconsin. All of which they are doing, of course, aided and abetted by the Department of Justice, which turned what should have been a sharp rebuke and deterrent to Enbridge’s standard operating procedures into a rather large gift. So as long as Enbridge continues to get its way, why change its behavior?
Not all the news of the past eighteen months has been bad, though. The movement to shut down Line 5, those two rickety old pipes traversing the Straits of Mackinac, has grown beyond what anyone ever could have expected. More and more citizens, members of the business community, clergy, and even some (unlikely) politicians have begun to take seriously the dangers that aging line poses to the world’s largest source of fresh water. Another positive development is the courageous action taken by the Bad River Band of of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa in Wisconsin. In order to protect the sensitive natural resources that sustain the tribe’s fishing and hunting lifeways, the Bad River tribal council voted not to renew Enbridge’s lease to operate Line 5 on tribal land. And there has been good news from Minnesota as well, where, thanks to a lawsuit filed by our friends at the Friends of the Headwaters, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that Enbridge must complete a full Environmental Impact Statement for its proposed pipeline expansions (one of which appears to be dead).
Developments like these hardly seemed possible when I started this blog in 2012. Grass roots movements against pipelines in the U.S., with one major exception, didn’t occupy anywhere near the space in public consciousness they inhabit today (which isn’t to say that nothing was brewing five years ago). Save for some talented reporters at a scrappy upstart online newspaper, Line 6B certainly wasn’t on many people’s radar, as my wife and I learned to our deep dismay when we tried to contact Michigan elected officials about the “replacement project.” Nor had many people heard of Line 5, Pegasus, the Alberta Clipper, Line 3, Dakota Access, Nexus, ET Rover, Northeast Energy Direct. LNG, or Trans Mountain— not to mention PHMSA and FERC.
The movements to resist each of these projects originated in local, even hyperlocal, concerns— call it NIMBYism if you want. But another change is that these movements are no longer so confined. They now form distinct nodes in a transnational network of efforts to exert local autonomy and authority against the onslaught of an energy infrastructure development beast running completely amok, virtually unconstrained by the state and federal agencies charged with protecting the public interest. Even more broadly, these movements have come to represent some of the most important and most visible sites of citizen action in response to the urgencies of climate change and the energy future.
A good deal of credit for this shift in public awareness about the relationship between local concerns like property rights and global concerns like climate change, forged by bringing fossil fuel transport aboveground (so to speak), is due to Bold Nebraska and the alliances they formed—between cowboys and Indians, ranchers and climate activists—to fight against Keystone XL. More recently, similar movements led by indigenous peoples like the Standing Rock Sioux water protectors in North Dakota have helped bring to light some further historical and ethical dimensions of this nexus, like the legacy of settler colonialism and important questions about climate justice, since indigenous and other poor populations will suffer most from the effects of climate change.
Admittedly, all of these matters weren’t foremost in my mind when I started this blog. The pain of witnessing the destruction of my property and a desire to see my neighbors and other property owners treated fairly motivated my efforts. The generosity and vast knowledge provided by the Pipeline Safety Trust aided those efforts immeasurably while also expanding my understanding of pipeline politics beyond my homefront. From there, my academic training led me to seek out not just resources for dealing with pipeline issues but also contexts and intellectual frameworks within which to understand and think through the broader social, political, and historical dimensions of what was happening in my backyard and the backyards of my neighbors. Those contexts and frameworks, inspired by the writings, conversations, friendships, and exchanges I’ve had with with scholars, activists, advocates, artists, ordinary citizens, and even members of the fossil fuel industry—will form the basis of the reinvented (and reinvigorated) Line 6B Citizens’ Blog.
In the academic world, scholars of literature (like me), history, anthropology, philosophy, political science and other fields who are bringing their disciplinary training to bear upon the cultural implications of our long love affair with (or addiction to?) hydrocarbons, climate change, ecology, environmental justice, energy policy, the nonhuman world, and more have created a broad, loosely defined field of study known as the Environmental Humanities. The kind of inquiry that animates the Environmental Humanities, almost by definition, takes up ethical questions, matters of public policy, and subjects of pressing real-world concern. For that reason, many EH scholars are eager for opportunities to engage with audiences and publics outside of the (sometimes too narrow) academic sphere—something I learned when I collaborated with my Oakland University colleagues to organize a climate change symposium at our campus. It’s my hope that the new Line 6B Citizens’ Blog can provide an ongoing forum for this kind of public engagement and, even better, for building a community comprised of groups of people that don’t always get the chance to communicate with one another.
All of this means I’ll mostly feature other voices on this blog from now on. I’ve asked some of the smartest and most interesting thinkers I know— many, but not all, of them Environmental Humanities scholars— to help keep this blog alive. And I hope to recruit others as well. Of course, I promise I won’t stop reporting on Enbridge. Nor will I cease to do whatever I can to help protect landowners and the environment from their latest shenanigans. But I’m also eager to let others have this platform for a while to explore issues that extend beyond (but also extend very much from) what has happened with Enbridge here in Michigan. I hope, loyal readers, that you’ll stick around. We all have much to learn from one another.
We’re going to kick things off with a brand new series centered upon a theme near and dear to all of us along Line 6B: “Backyards.” That series will launch very soon—and I am very excited about it. Please stay tuned.